– the fun-loving, but hardworking single parent

By Treena Kwenta
Hi Readers!  Nanny and I are having the time of our lives here in Jos, savouring the peace and quiet.  Life is more slow-paced than in Lagos.

Seb’s  family complex, comprising a main house for his parents and other elderly relations,  and then several chalets in the extensive ground,  is located in a quiet suburb on a slightly-raised land.  It’s an area where middle-income people that have retired from government service chose to live in a group. They, like the  Kwentas, are mainly immigrants from neighbouring Benue State, so they feel quite at home as most families there know one another and have formed a strong bond.

Being of similar social background, no-one is overawed by the other’s progress, because they’ve all done their best  in their respective fields, and now the second and third generations are making their families proud of them by their own achievements.

As far as I can remember, every house in that area has more than one vehicle.  To me, there’s nothing more disheartening than having  neighbours who cast envious and hostile glances at you, because you seem so much more affluent than they are, (even though you’re just managing to keep afloat), that they feel life hasn’t treated them fairly.

This makes me feel uncomfortable, and that dampens my joy.  In this surburb of Jos, you can throw a party and you won’t have miscreants hanging outside the gates waiting for free food.   In fact, when there’s a surplus after a celebration or party, the younger members of the family would pack them into small containers and go distribute them in the city centre where there are beggars.

So, I felt free to don a tight-fitting pair of slacks and a top and go on long walks with nanny, re-discovering nature and breathing unpolluted air.  We were like celebrities as people hailed us from every side, welcoming us to Jos, and wishing us a successful wedding celebration.

Obviously, the news had gone round that a second generation Kwenta was getting married.  I felt proud that the bride is my daughter, and she’s made a worthy choice.  Thank God.

One evening, a young man who had jogged past us suddenly stopped and retraced his steps.

“Ma, good evening,” he greeted us pleasantly.  “We’ve never met, ma, but I recognized you from the illustration of you in your Monday column in the Vanguard, and of course I’ve known the Kwenta family here, all my life.  I’ve been reading your column for years, and I always find it interesting and educative.”

“Oh, thank you.  That’s a kind comment.”

“It’s so interesting, ma.  I can say that I grew up on it, as my late mum never failed to take in Monday Vanguard.  She was an addicted fan of  the column.  Sometimes, our steward would trek a long way every  Monday, just to buy a copy of the Vanguard.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that your mum has passed away.  She must have left at a very young age.”

“Not really, ma.   She left us last year at the age of seventy-one.   I’m her lastborn.  Our joy was that she lived to see us all get married and she had the pleasure, albeit short-lived, of having grandchildren from every one of us.  That was very comforting.  I miss her still.  We all do.”

“Of course.  It’s hard to forget a mother.  In fact, any parent for that matter. Even if you’ve not been seeing eye-to-eye with a parent, once he/she is no more, you feel empty. Sorry.  But thank God you’re all grown now with families of your own.  What do you do?  Do you live here permanently, or you came with your family for Christmas?”

“I’m here with my family for Christmas.  We all came down from our various stations so that we can celebrate Christmas with our dad; the first, since mum left us.  I live and work in Kaduna, in a Federal ministry.  My wife, Becky, is also a civil servant but in a state ministry.  We met at the university in Zaria and got married three years ago.  We have a small son.”

“Congratulations, er, er, you haven’t told me your name yet.”

“Sorry ma. I’m Christopher.  My parents’ house is on the street directly behind this one, the Kwenta’s house is on.   Our two families have interacted for many years.  We’re also originally from Benue State, but Plateau State is home to us now.

Milwan and I were classmates for a couple of months in the  primary school at the hill top many years ago when he schooled here briefly.”

“Oh, really?   You must be his age-mate too.”

“I remember I’m two years older than he, because he was the youngest in our class then.  We used to tease him and call him ‘bread and butter’ child, on account of his accent.  I think you all had just returned from Europe then, and he and his younger sister had this funny accent which used to make us laugh.  They stayed only a few months, and then they returned to Lagos.  I think they weren’t happy here at that time, but when they returned years later on annual vacation they seemed to like this place.”

Even though I was smiling at Christopher as he made his little comment on my children, I was re-living that era in my mind.  It was when I just left Seb and to make me return to him, he went to grab the kids at their primary  school  and whisked them off to live and school in Jos.

Oh yes!  He was that desperate then!  His strategy didn’t work, because, on the advice of my parents, I attack him or oppose his move; rather it was a game of ‘wait and see’.  This worked as his parents had to tell him to come bring them back to me in Lagos, as they were unhappy and were asking for their mother most of the time.  Being separated from my kids by force was pure torture to me at the time, but thank God that I weathered the storm and we were re-united.

I suppose the incident was what made Seb decide to remain close to me and shoulder all our expenses.  Who knows what would have happened if I had been at daggers-drawn with him.  Thank God for wise parental advice.

“Ma, well done, ma,” the young man was saying.  “I learnt from Patrick that my friends, your children, have done very well and they both have Masters and have good jobs in Britain.”

“Thank you, but you’ve done very well for yourself too, Christopher,” I soothed him.  “I’m sure your position is high in the civil service.”

“Not really, ma,” he said with a laugh, “but there’s hope that the future is bright.  My parents insisted that all four of us, including our sister, must work for the government.

I don’t know why, when one could earn more money in the private sector.  Anyway, we’re not doing too badly although things could be better.”

“I don’t think the civil service is bad if you’re a professional.  You stand a chance of being in a position where you could make decisions which could improve the lives of citizens, and when you retire, you could set up a consultancy in your line.”

“That’s what my parents told us.  Ma, congratulations on the forthcoming event.”

“Thanks.”

“Your daughter was quite pretty then and posh too.  In fact, I dreamt of marrying her all through my primary and secondary school.  I thought she would feel the same about me when she and your son began to come here on Christmas vacation,  but she didn’t seem to have time for boys at all.  She would just stare at you, or look past you, as if there’s something more interesting going on behind you, and you were obstructing her view.  I had to give up hope that she would ever notice me.”

Here the poor guy sighed.  Of course my daughter had no time for boys until she got to the university.  And even then she was very picky until she met Robert.  Good for her.

“It happens,” I told Christopher with some sympathy.  “It wasn’t meant to be, and anyway, I’m sure the girl you later met and married turned out to be the love of your life. You would have missed her if you had continued hoping that Heather would have a relationship with you.  That’s how God works.  You got the best.  Didn’t you say you have a small son?  You’re certainly blessed.”

“Thank you, ma,” he said, unconvinced.  “Alright, ma, I’ll have to continue with my jogging now.  It was nice meeting you at last.  You made my evening.  I’ll tell my wife that I finally met my mum’s idol.”

“Oh no!  Your mum couldn’t have liked what I write to that extent.  It was nice meeting you too.  Give my regards to your wife.  Knowing how close this community is, I’m sure your family was invited to the wedding.  If not, please come as my special guests.”

“Thank you, ma.  We were invited, and my wife and I had said we would attend.  It  would be nice seeing my friends, your children again. I wonder if your daughter will remember my face.  I was one of the boys hanging around her in those days.  My wife can’t wait to meet her too.”

“You told her about my daughter?  Why?  You can’t even remember her name.”

“Ah, I do, ma.  I thought it would be rude referring to her by name as if I’m one of her acquaintances.  She’s called Heather, and your son is Milwan.  My age mates around here were the ones who told my wife about her a few days ago; just for fun,  when the invitations to the wedding were sent out.  They told her she should watch out so that I don’t leave her and run off with Heather.  She’s not stopped teasing me about my childish infatuation since then.  She doesn’t feel threatened. After all, we were kids under the age of ten then.”

“I know.  It was a normal feeling.  Well, have a pleasurable time jogging and give my regards to your family.”

“Thank you, ma.  Good night.”

As nanny and I resumed our walk, I made a mental note to alert Heather about Christopher, so that she would greet him kindly.  Funny things do happen at weddings if you don’t iron out all edges.

Tara.

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